IN 1889, the International Socialist Conference in Paris declared May 1 as International Workers’ Day.Gradually, other countries began to celebrate the holiday and today nearly every country commemorates it. The date was chosen to honour the events that had taken place in 1886 at the Haymarket in Chicago, later known as the Haymarket Affair.
At the Haymarket Affair, workers had protested for the legalisation of an eight-hour working day. By May 4, the Haymarket was bombed and there were several fatalities. Since then, May 1 has gradually become a day all over the world for protest, for marches and for parades honouring workers.
Workers’ Day now
When the 1886 protesters convened and protested for an eight-hour day, they never imagined that workers one day would live in a time such as the one we are living in.
A time where “work from home”, “social distancing” and “personal protective equipment” are the buzz words of the day. A time where permits would be needed to move around freely to show employment. A time where the world would come to a halt due to a flu that is wreaking havoc.
For the first time in many years in Zimbabwe, Workers’ Day is not being commemorated by elaborate rallies or mass gatherings. Instead those not considered to be essential workers will spend their time at home for the unforeseeable future due to the lockdown measures the country is currently under.
Law and statistics
According to section 55 of the Constitution, all Zimbabweans have a right to choose the type of work they want to be involved in and have freedom from forced labour.
The Labour Relations Act further protects citizens from unfair labour practices. These practices and rights are still applicable in a state of national disaster. According to the International Labour Organisation, up to 300 million jobs are at risk worldwide due to the pandemic. Such a gross projection of job loss casts an eerie shadow over the celebrations of Workers’ Day.
The United Nations secretary-general this year calls for employers and governments to put “the well-being of the people at the centre of economic and social policies”, as all work to try and decrease job losses.
In his Workers’ Day address, President Emmerson Mnangagwa highlighted the need for Zimbabwe to focus on the informal sector. This is an acknowledgement that a great portion of the population of Zimbabwe operates informally.
Workers’ Day in Zimbabwe during the Covid-19 lockdown is a difficult time. The informal worker is particularly affected the most during the current shutdown. Measures to assist informal workers are essential, and they should be thorough, implementable, practical and relevant to the people. The sector will be crucial to the post-Covid-19 recovery of the economy. Its workers should not be overlooked during this time.
In solidarity with workers
As the President pointed out in his speech, the coming of the pandemic was a wake-up call to all of us and has shaken us out of complacency. As we commemorate Workers’ Day today, may all employers, from large corporates to small informal employers, be challenged by this pandemic to not only think in terms of the present, but keep employees in mind in terms of the future.
Now, more than ever, we need to show our humanity towards other people. As Zimbabwe deals with the Covid-19 pandemic, we call upon employers in essential services to ensure that their employees are provided with adequate protective clothing and that facilities are properly sanitised and maintained. May the rights of the workers not be forgotten during this time.
Veritas salutes all workers in essential services for staying at their posts, especially doctors, nurses and other health workers, but not forgetting others working to supply Zimbabwe with food, water and electricity. Although we are living in unusual times, we at Veritas hope you had a happy Workers’ Day.